Matthew 23:1-39 - Outline of Matthew (MENU page)
Jesus had offered Himself as King to Israel, in fulfillment of prophecy (ch. 21).
The religious leaders rejected Him, and questioned Him, seeking to trap Him in His words (ch. 21,22).
He had identified their errors, with parables, with direct answers to their questions, and with a question (22:42-45). But the religious leaders have become hardened in their rejection of Him.
In ch. 23, Jesus denounces and condemns them strongly.
But first, He warns the people against following these false leaders. cp. Mark 12:38-40; Luk 20:45-47
23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do;
{cp. Deu 17:9-12}
but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders;
but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers.
23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men:
they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
23:7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi:
for one is your Master, [even] Christ; and all ye are brethren.
23:9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ.
23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;
and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat- ie., they have his place of authority.
It was their responsibility to teach and apply the Law of Moses, to the people. cp. Ezra 7:6,10,25,26; Mal 2:7
Therefore, do what they say, but not what they do {paraphrase of v.3}- ie.,
Since everyone is responsible for obedience to God's Word, obey what they teach you.
But do not follow their example, since they themselves do not live in sincere obedience to God's Word.
These religious leaders made a display of external righteousness by...
  1. Burdening others with strict interpretation of the Law, while excusing themselves. v.4
  2. Making a show of religion, to be seen of men. v.5
    • Phylacteries - small boxes, containing a portion of scripture, which were strapped on the arm or forehead, in literal compliance with Deu 6:6-8.
    • Borders {ie., hems} of their garments - were meant to remind them to keep and do God's commandments from the heart (Num 15:38,39). But these men were not seeking to serve the Lord with their whole heart. While neglecting God's Word, they enlarged their phylacteries and garment fringes to present an appearance of superior spirituality.
  3. Seeking honor from men. v.6,7
Jesus' followers are to lead others to God, rather than to themselves.-
  • be not ye called Rabbi {lit., 'great one,' a title given to teachers}... one is your Master... (v.7,8) -
    cp. 2Cor 4:5; Jam 3:1; 1Pet 5:2,3 (Christ is to be pre-eminent. cf. Col 1:18 with 3Joh 1:9)
  • call no [man] your father upon the earth... one is your Father... (v.9)
    A father is a giver of life. A man who leads another to spiritual life through faith in Christ, may be regarded as a father in the faith (cp. 1Cor 4:15; 1Tim 5:1). But such a man cannot be regarded as the source of blessing, life or strength. Rather, the believer is to look to the Father in heaven (cp. Mat 6:9-13; Heb 12:9; Rom 8:15).
  • live as servants to one another (v.11,12)- cp. Mat 20:25-28
 
Having warned the people and His disciples against following the ways of the religious leaders,
Jesus pronounced seven 'woes' upon the scribes and Pharisees (cp. Zech 11:17). - -
23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men:
for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer
{ie., allow} ye them that are entering to go in.
They excluded themselves and others from the Kingdom. cp. Mat 21:32; Joh 9:22
23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer:
therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
They covered their crooked business dealings with religious hypocrisy. cp. Ex 22:22-24; 2Pet 2:3
23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte,
and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
They converted others, not to be servants of God, but to be followers of their sinful ways. cp. Joh 8:44
23:16 Woe unto you, [ye] blind guides, which say,
Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing;
but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
23:17 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether
{ie., which} is greater,
the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
23:18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing;
but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
23:19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater,
the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
{cp. Ex 29:37}
23:20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
23:21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
23:22 And he that shall swear by heaven,
sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
{cp. Isa 66:1}
They saw true value in earthly riches, but they were blind to spiritual realities. cp. Isa 56:10,11
They measured 'sanctification' {ie., holiness, dedication, separation} according to monetary costliness, but they failed to appreciate the inestimable holiness {otherness} of the One they claimed to worship. Their error was similar to that of idol worshippers (cp. Isa 40:25; 46:5 and contexts).
23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,
and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith:
these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
{cp. Luk 11:42; Mat 12:7}
23:24 [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
They kept the law in trivial detail (even tithing from their spice racks),
while neglecting the more important duties, and while accepting gross error. cp. Mat 15:3-6
23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter,
but within they are full of extortion and excess.
23:26 [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter,
that the outside of them may be clean also.
23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward,
but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness.
23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men,
but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
They were carefully maintaining an external appearance of cleanness, while neglecting their internal corruption. cp. Mat 15:19,20; Luk 11:39,40,44
23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
23:30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers,
we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
23:31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves,
that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
{cp. Luk 11:47,48}
23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
They considered themselves superior to their predecessors,
but in reality followed close in their footsteps. cp. v.34,35; Acts 7:51,52
The strong language, which Jesus used in warning, is consistent with the severe condemnation which must fall upon religious people whose hearts are far from God. What does the Lord see in your heart? We dare not ignore His words, as these men did, to their peril.
23:33 [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers,
how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
{cp. Mat 3:7; Joh 8:44}
23:34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes:
and [some] of them ye shall kill and crucify;
and [some] of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues,
and persecute [them] from city to city:
{cp. Joh 16:2}
23:35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth,
from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias,
whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Their condemnation would include...
- - personal judgment - the damnation of hell {HB=gehenna, place of burning}. v.15; Mark 9:42-48
- - national judgment - a specific calamity upon that 'generation' (ie., the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD).
the blood of... Abel unto... Zecharias son of Barachias -
ie., They would be held accountable for silencing all of God's messengers from the beginning to the end of the OT period.
Scholars differ as to which 'Zecharias' the Lord Jesus had in mind, in v.35. He could be referring to:
  1. The prophet Zechariah, who wrote the book of Zechariah (Zech 1:1) -
    This Zechariah was one of the last prophets in the OT period. He is also the son of a man named Berechiah. However, we do not have a record concerning the cause of death, for this Zechariah.
  2. The priest Zechariah the son of Jehoida -
    The details, of his death, match those which Jesus mentions (see 2Chr 24:20-22). According to Jewish usage, the word "son," can mark descendency from one's father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. Therefore, if he had an ancester by that name, this Zechariah could also be called "the son of Barachiah." Unfortunately, we do not have a record of this Zechariah's genealogy. Therefore, it would be speculation to assume this was the case.
         However, the book of Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible [see order of books in the Hebrew Bible]. Therefore, if Jesus was referring to this man, his words 'from Abel unto... Zecharias...' would be like saying 'from the beginning to the end of the Scriptures.' (The NT had not yet been written.)
         It is also possible that Jesus coined the name 'Barachias' to make His point to the religious leaders. This Zechariah's father, Jehoida {whose name means 'the LORD knows'}, was instrumental in protecting and guiding young king Joash (Jehoash), and in leading the nation in a great revival (2Kin ch.11-12; 2Chr ch.23-24). But after Jehoida's death, the leaders of Judah influenced Joash to turn the kingdom away from the LORD and back into idolatry. When the LORD sent Zechariah the son of Jehoida, with a message of rebuke, the wicked leaders conspired against Zechariah and killed him. "Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoida his father had done unto him, but slew his son" (2Chr 24:20-22). Yet, 'the LORD knew' what Jehoida had done, and also what they had done to his son. In God's eyes Jehoida and his son, Zechariah, were both regarded as 'Barachias' {meaning 'blessed of the LORD'}. The LORD will rightly judge all injustices, in due time.
        On a few other occasions, Jesus assigned descriptive names to men (eg., Simon: Cephas {HB} or Peter {GK}, Joh 1:42, Mark 3:16; the sons of Zebedee: the sons of thunder, Mark 3:17). In the future, He will give new names to His servants, who are maligned by the world, but dear to His heart (Rev 2:17).
        Here, Jesus was warning the religious leaders of coming judgment, because of their rejection of God's Word and for their mistreatment of God's servants, from the first book to the last, from the first martyr (Abel, recorded in Genesis) to the last (Zechariah, recorded in Chronicles). Though the persecuted ones were rejected by men, they are 'blessed' of the Lord (Mat 5:11) and will be vindicated in the day of judgment.
  3. The priest Zechariah the father of John the Baptist (Luk 1:5f)-
    According to some early Christian tradition and a second century apocryphal book ("The Infancy Gospel of James"), this Zechariah was slain in the Temple, around the time of Herod's slaughter of the innocents, because he refused to surrender his own infant son (John). If so, Jesus' words directly implicated the religious leaders when He spoke of Zechariah "whom ye slew..." However, we have no record of this Zechariah's genealogy. His father's name is unknown, and the apocryphal source is questionable.

The identification of the Zechariah, in v.35, is not essential for understanding the Scriptures. Yet, skeptics point to the uncertainty as evidence that Jesus and the Bible are in error and untrustworthy. However, the skeptics are shortsighted. They do not know the One who knows the end from the beginning. Who can say whether Jesus might have had several men and incidents in mind? God will hold the wicked accountable for the blood of the righteous... from Abel to the close of the Hebrew Bible... from Abel to Israel's rejection of Jesus ('the Son of the Blessed', Mark 14:61)... from Abel to the close of God's prophetic purposes, when Israel will receive the One whom they pierced (as declared by Zechariah the prophet, Zech 12:10).
 
23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
[thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee,
how often would I have gathered thy children together,
even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not!
{cp. Mat 11:28-30}
23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
{cp. Jer 22:5}
23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth,
till ye shall say, Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
{cp. Luk 13:34,35}
O Jerusalem... - Though rejected, the King loves His people.
He would have gathered them, but they refused.
Now He weeps for them, and the sorrows that will come upon them. cp. Luk 19:41-44
your house is left unto you desolate- The 'house' refers to the Temple.
God's house, without Him, becomes 'your' house. cp. Mat 21:13
you will not see me...
  • until ye say blessed is He that cometh...- v.39; cp. Mat 21:9; Psa 118:26
    The crowd had said these words, but they had not received their King,
    because they understood neither what they were saying, nor who He was.
    Now, they must wait until His second coming for the establishment of His Kingdom.
    cp. Hos 3:4,5; Zech 12:10; Jer 23:5-8; Mal 3:1-4
    Note that the following conditions must also be fulfilled before the Kingdom is established...
    1. until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Luk 21:24 -
      ie., until Gentile world dominion is brought to an end by Christ's return. cp. Dan 2:34,35
    2. until the fulness of the Gentiles be brought in. Rom 11:25-27; cp. Acts 15:13-18
      ie., until the full number of those who will believe (from among both Jews and Gentiles) is brought into the Church of Christ.
      [adapted from ScofRB]

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